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July, 2020 Contract Manufacturing in the Time of COVID-19 Continued from previous page

perform our jobs for our customers,” says Dow. “Our major production change has been remote training, teleconferencing and social distanc- ing for all employees.” The company accomplishes this by staggering breaks and lunches and adding addi- tional rooms for those activities. “We also have assignments for continual disinfecting throughout the day to ensure our environment remains safe.” Many changes have been made to keep the customers happy, their orders fulfilled and the staff safe. “We know materials availability

has been an issue for some CMs, but thus far, our supply chain has been outstanding and reliable,” says Dow. “We have not seen any dramatic swings in price fluctuations. We have only had one disruption of sourcing, but we were fortunate that our busi- ness model is such that we always maintain backup sourcing. We were able to procure what we needed from a second supplier.” Absolute EMS has had the good

fortune to partner with a variety of strong customers that are providing life-saving equipment during this pandemic. This business model has allowed the company to help other new customers with urgent manu- facturing requirements, such as res- pirators, etc. The company is also cognizant of the value of a strong supply chain. “We have spent 25 years creat-

ing deep relationships and we com- municate openly and frequently re- garding needs and challenges. We depend on our supply chain,” says Dow. “The COVID-19 situation brings to the forefront what is really important — the value of human life.

This is in addition to staying safe, protecting our employees and deliv- ering our customers’ products so they can help the general population.”

Stephen Conover, Engineering Production Manager, Altium

“There is no aspect of the con-

tract manufacturing industry that has not been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Stephen Conover, engineering pro- duction manager, Altium. Conover describes his experience attending the IPC APEX 2020 Expo in San Diego earlier this year. “On the sur- face, everything seemed to be busi- ness as usual: crowds of attendees, acres of new carpet, gloriously steaming cups of coffee, badges, brochures, machines displayed like Swiss watches in a store front, well- positioned lights, freshly printed banners, and the sounds of CNC mo- tors buzzing and whirring reminis- cent of a harmonic Casino floor drone. It was a magical place.” He recounts that walking into the

main hall for the first time was like stepping onto an airport conveyor that immediately transforms casual walk- ing into superhuman forward momen- tum. He immediately began visiting booth after booth, bypassing several weeks of email threads, PDF attach- ments, voicemails, and phone calls with dozens of vendors, application en- gineers, and sales representatives. “I find it astonishing that in a

matter of weeks there would be no crowds, no networking, no exchang- ing of cards, no handshakes, and no hotel bar tab. I could never in my wildest imagination anticipate this,” says Conover. After a few hours into the first

day, a common theme began to find his ears in snippets from passing conversations, mentions of massive delays, talk of Chinese factory shut- downs, extended lead times, pur- chase orders put on hold, and freight logistics delays. To Conover, it was clear that

everyone felt there was a storm on the horizon, but also that it might clear up soon. After the trade show ended,

Conover recalls boarding his flight back to New York City and noticing a handful of people wearing face masks, and even a few wearing pro-

Altium has paused production at

its Brooklyn, New York, facility and is currently outsourcing customer or- ders to some partners with whom it has close relationships. At present, the company is ac-

tively focused on implementing process optimizations and factory im- provements that would otherwise be difficult since most of the company’s time was dedicated to PCB produc- tion. According to Conover, the com- pany’s long-term focus remains un- changed. As far as changes to the compa-

ny’s daily routine, its awareness lev- el of hand and respiratory hygiene, as well as best practices for cleaning and sanitizing work surfaces, has greatly increased. Normal consumable supplies

and raw materials, such as alcohol, wipes, nitrile gloves, masks, and res- pirators, were in short supply overnight. “Normally these supplies were readily available everywhere,” says Conover. “It feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone.” However, Conover adds that he

tective gloves. Most passengers were wearing neither facemasks nor gloves. “As the plane began to pull away

from the gate and taxi toward the runway for takeoff, it dawned on me that at some point very soon the ratio of mask wearing to non-mask-wear- ing people would be inverted. It was at that moment I began to feel the gravity of the situation for the first time,” says Conover.

has not found himself in a situation where resources required any repur- posing, except for needing to use more isopropyl alcohol for cleaning and sterilization of common areas more frequently than standard as- sembly process use cases. “It has been almost two months

since I’ve had a cheeseburger with fries at a restaurant. I remain opti- mistic that the world will pull through this,” he says. “When it does, we will all collectively become wiser, we will take fewer things for granted and we will meet the daily grind with open arms.”

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